These swimmers went the distance — to Coney Island.
Six aquatic athletes slogged through 17 miles of river currents from Manhattan to Coney Island on Saturday, replicating the route that long-distance swimming champion Rose Pitonof swam exactly 100 years ago.
Endurance swimmer Deanne Draeger organized the marathon, dubbed the Rose Pitonof Centennial Swim, in honor of the 17-year-old phenom whose historic sporting feat inspired women worldwide and enthralled thousands of New Yorkers.
“There were many sorts of events like this and not a lot of people had crossed the English Channel yet,” said Draeger. “When she arrived there were 50,000 spectators and she could barely get into shore. Her coach came in on a boat and the crowds ripped up the boat to get a souvenir.”
A hundred years later, the swimmers reenacted Pitonof’s endurance swim stroke by stroke.
Swimmers Lori Carena, Cara McAteer, Leonard Jansen, Jaimie Monahan, Alan Morrison, and Jason Malick dove into the East River at 8:45 am to begin their six-hour maritime journey.
Each swimmer, flanked by two kayakers and a small motorboat, followed the same route that began under the Williamsburg Bridge and through Buttermilk Channel. After swimming into the bay, the swimmers passed under the Verrazano Bridge’s stanchions and turned toward Norton’s Point at Seagate, before heading to Coney Island’s Steeplechase Pier — the race’s finish line.
Carena and McAteer traded places at the front of the pack, swimming neck-and-neck for much of the morning, until Carena pushed ahead for good after the Verrazano Bridge, touching the buoy at Steeplechase Pier to finish the race in five hours and 47 minutes.
“It felt good to stop and to have finished,” said Carena. “I was happy to be walking without any problem. I was happy to have won, even if I was 40 years older than Rose.”
McAteer, who trains with the Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers, came in four minutes later and described the race as “fun, friendly and relaxed.”
“I had been expecting the swim to take longer than it did, but we were all moving pretty fast the whole time, so there was time to take in the Statue of Liberty without worrying about having to finish against the tide,” said McAteer. “Swimming to the Coney pier was like swimming home, but approaching it from the west gave it a new twist.”
Unlike Pitonof’s race, only a handful of well-wishers met the swimmers as they walked through the shore at Coney Island beach.
But swimmers were grateful for the attention — and they loaded up on carbs at Ruby’s Bar and Grill during the race’s afterparty.
“I started laughing because I felt so out of place amongst the other beachgoers in their festive bikinis and colorful board shorts,” said Jaimie Monahan. “People were splashing around, dancing a bit, having fun. Then I came stumbling by, out of the water after six hours in a cap and speedo, waterlogged and covered in dirt and seaweed like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
And as an added treat, 10 of Pitonof’s descendants were on hand, including her 2-year-old great-great granddaughter, who put a medal on the winner.
Swimmer Leonard Jansen said he was grateful that he had the chance to “savor the moment.”
“Finishing after a long day was great, especially with the people on the pier, my brother and nephew and everyone cheering,” said Jansen. “For now it’s enough to still be in life, swim in the ocean and spend time with good people.”